By Tony Eluemunor
It is difficult for me to choose which aspect of the life of Sir John Ejikeme Njoku of Owaelu, Owerri, Imo state, to focus on. I had listened intently to the talk about the man as he lay in a casket during the funeral mass at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Owaelu, on Friday, April 9,2021, but even that did not help matters.
Growing up as a child, he was often in our house, having married a daughter of the family, Lady Francisca, (nee Eluemunor) whom he met at Ibadan. She was a staff of the Ministry of Aviation and he was with the Nigeria Airways. I attended primary school with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation and Nigeria Airways’ Flying Elephant branded bags hanging from my shoulder.
For starters, Sir Njoku was mild-mannered. Temperance should have been his middle name for he was always self-restrained in his acts. He was not given to anger or outburst—even if he had been wronged. Talk about an upsurge in fiery emotion, talk about a volcanic eruption of temper, wrath or fury and you could have stayed close to this dearly departed for decades without noticing such in him. Yes, he was not just temperate in his actions, he was actually clement, very pleasant and of sweet disposition.
He was first and foremost peaceable. He chose his words carefully, saying not more than the immediate occasion demanded, and in the service of goodness and truth. He would edify you, he would encourage you, he would instruct you, he would advise you, he could even tell you where you had gone wrong, but he had an angelic way of saying such, in a way and manner that was strictly Sir John Njokuresque, yes, in a way that was totally his. His voice would remain low, rising and ebbing in measured cadence, but commanding enough as to make you listen attentively. He was a man of few words, totally dependable and trustworthy. His yes, was yes and his no was no, when it came to promises.
Thus, as though without striving at all, he would command your attention if he was talking to, or with, you. And all the while, no matter how grave the matter under discussion or the situation, he would garnish his words with his trademark smile—fresh, engaging, trusty and reassuring. He would send his views across to you, without deceit or flattery, earnestly but with disarming refinement, propriety and gentleness, no, placidity even.
Yes, serene would be the right word to describe his real disposition. He was an incurable optimist, the sort that would stand at the gates of midnight and yet envisage a glorious sunrise. And he would do all in his power to make that sunrise come into his own life or the lives of those who stood in need of it. He believed it his duty to help out those in need, and he never saw it as charity or help or assistance, but a duty any human being owed the needy.
Here was a man without affectation, artificiality or pretentiousness. He had his two feet planted firmly on solid ground. He was well-educated, had a gloriously rich career with the Nigeria Airways, where he served as Airport Manager, Yola; and reached the peaks of the ticket sales department. He was a man of character who fled from scandal, falsehood and corruption. Yet, once he retired, this city man embraced village life, became its rallying point, a pillar of the community.
Giving his retirement life a purpose; he became a Catechist in his village church. He was that humble and religious. His home became a second one to many seminarians who were training to become priests of the Catholic Church, and the needy. The result was that his funeral mass was co-celebrated by a monsignor and nine priests.
His life was an example to others. He became a byword for neatness in his village, his parlour, his house, his compound were so clean that anybody preparing to visit him, must of necessity keep himself or herself neat. His clothes were always well-ironed, his shoes were shiningly polished and as the priest said at his funeral mass, it was obvious he washed his slippers daily. Yes, he showed the young and the old that cleanliness is next to godliness as he was known to wash his own clothes by himself before washing machines came to our shores. He was well-groomed; a dapper dresser, urbane and elegant. In his Owaelu village, he was nicknamed “London” owing to his polished and gracious manner, courteousness, neatness, sophistication and refinement.
My brother Knight (KSJI), may your truly gentle and generous soul rest in perfect peace.